Deceased February 17, 2018
After a long and fruitful life, Walter died last February at age 92 in Sonoma, Calif. He is survived by his wife, Lu Williamson Benson; four children; four grandchildren; and many nieces and nephews.
At Amherst, he was a member of Phi Alpha Psi and a three-year member of the wrestling team and sailing club. He was also active in a host of other campus activities and still found time to earn his Phi Beta Kappa key. This was a foretaste of what was to come.
He flew planes and raced cars, but mostly drove pickup trucks while planting and maintaining vineyards, constructing homes and working in land development of his own concept, design and implementation.
He created Bennett Ridge and The Ranch in Sonoma County. His land-planning concepts set a higher standard for hillside design with building envelopes for homes and dedicated open space for the remainder of the parcel.
The Sonoma Historical Society gave him an award in recognition of his hillside preservation planning. He was a “dynamite guy,” literally, in his creation of an underground winery in 1976 after replanting the Snyder Vineyard in the historic Buena Vista Viticultural District—a century after the phylloxera devastation.
He worked the vine rows and the winery in old Ford pickups, co-piloted by a succession of black Labs over a 50-year period. Additionally, he worked with student groups at Sonoma State University, was involved with sculpture and mentored students in his profession. Not surprisingly, his home is an early passive solar design. Along the way, he patented early LED lighting fixtures and designed varied artworks.
His was a singular and rewarding life—not foreseen, I’ll wager, while at college. Very impressive.
Gerry Reilly ’49